Saturday, September 27, 2008

To Err is Human, to Sing Playground Songs Isn't

I’ve heard a lot of talk in the media lately about “nature vs. nurture”. How much of what we become is determined by our genetic makeup, and how much is learned? My gut tells me that it is a combination of the two. Of course, that may just be because my gut is genetically predisposed to tell me that.

Now, while the “nature vs. nurture” debate is intriguing and fraught with fascinating – if somewhat disturbing – implications, it is about neither nature nor nurture to which I wish to address my thoughts today.

There is, in fact, a third factor which shapes who we are. A factor unseen and unsuspected that has an unfathomable influence over each of us. To name this factor will, in all likelihood, lose me the previously unshakable respect of the millions of readers I like to pretend frequent this blog. Even knowing that, however, I still feel compelled, so I will name it.

It's aliens. Aliens control us in ways that you, quite literally, won’t believe. My realization that there was an unearthly intelligence shaping our thoughts and behaviors came about a year ago. I had a very flux capacitor-esque revelation when I heard my children singing the playground song, “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”. That’s funny, I thought amusedly, I used to sing the same song when I was their age. As I thought about it more, however, my amusement turned to foreboding. 30 years and hundreds of miles separated the 5-year-old me from my present-day children. How could they possibly be singing the same song? It’s not the type of song that is taught to elementary school children by their teachers, and I have a hard time believing that parents all across America have been propagating it from generation to generation.

The seeds of suspicion had been planted in my mind, so I decided to do some research. Each phone call and casual conversation I had over then next few days was fodder for my suspicions. Every person I talked to was familiar with the song. There were no geographical or generational bounds to it. It was known by octogenarians and kindergarteners, New Yorkers and Californians. Not only did everyone know the song, the vast majority of them had absolutely no recollection of ever learning it.

Still, I dug further. I tried to find the origins of the song, and was amazed by what I found. My research took me to Lascaux France where, in a forgotten corner of its famous cave, I found the following prehistoric painting:

The image clearly depicts jingle bells, Batman smelling, and even the Batmobile which has lost a wheel.

Interestingly, the carbon dating on this painting proves it not only to predate Bob Kane and Bill Finger (the supposed creators of Batman), but even Christmas itself.

With the combined evidence of my personal interviews, the cave painting, and my gut – which, as pointed out earlier, is genetically predisposed to tell me stuff, the conclusion is irrefutable. This song (and probably many others) is routinely implanted into human minds by aliens.

So what's the big deal? After all, it is just a silly playground song. Well, the "big deal" is that this song subtly strikes a blow at two of the most central pillars of civilazation - super heroes and holidays. If aliens are successful in trivializing these two staples of humanity, the consequences will be catastrophic. Movie script writers will have to start thinking up original plot lines. Retailers will have to figure out how to be profitable without a post-Thanksgiving rush. Credit card companies might fail altogether. In short, the world will be a confused mess.

So, for the sake of our planet, please remember, Batman does NOT smell, and The Joker never gets away.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Am Brilliant

Several years ago I had a friend who thought everything was cool. It didn’t matter what it was, there was some degree of coolness in it. The only variable was the actual quantity of coolness imbued in a thing. For instance, if someone told my friend that a puppy had been run over, he might have responded, “Wow… that’s not very cool.” which, of course, would imply that there was, albeit minuscule, at least some level of coolness it.

See, there is a monumental difference between something not being cool, and something not being very cool, and in that difference, lies a paradigm-shifting idea that bears consideration.

Entertaining the notion that there is at least some shred of coolness in every person, place, and thing (ok, every noun) that exists, it follows that other attributes (beauty, intelligence, goodness, etc.) would be similarly ubiquitous. In fact, I assert that this idea can be applied not just to some other attributes, but to every other attribute. In other words, everything is everything – to an extent.

Traditionally, attributes are considered to have opposites which do not typically occupy the same space. Beauty and ugliness, for instance, are thought to be on a single scale, ugliness being at one end, and beauty at the other. In my view, beauty and ugliness are two distinct attributes, both of which are present in everything. Heidi Klum, for example, is not very ugly, but, as it must, a tiny shred of ugliness does exist in her. I can therefore, with a clear conscience, say that she is ugly, because she embodies that small bit of ugliness.

Likewise, as the title of this post avers, I can say with full confidence that I am brilliant. Granted, the quantity of brilliance that abides in me may be microscopic, but it is there. Unfortunately, idiocy is also inexorably attached to me, so it is just as correct for me to state, “I am idiotic”.

The problem is that often times one attribute is so blaring, that all other attributes are overlooked. If I was devoured by lions, the tragedy of my gruesome death would almost completely overshadow the triumph of me getting a day off of work. Ergo, most people would feel comfortable saying the event was not triumphant. In actuality, however, the event was just not very triumphant.

So, what’s the point? Well, if you embrace the, “everything is everything” philosophy, you can be totally relieved of any guilt associated with "little white lies" and/or unfair criticisms. Statements like, “You are beautiful!”, “That idea is genius!”, and “That joke was hilarious!”, can all be said with complete candor. Conversely, for those of you less inclined to niceness, feel free to boldly assert, “Your face is atrocious!”, “Your mannerisms are obnoxious!”, or even, “Your blog is lame.”

When you come to the realization that everything (and everyone) actually does manifest some level of beauty, genius, hilarity, atrocity, obnoxiousness and lameness, pointing it out is merely rhetorical.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Surviving in Las Vegas

As I sat in an air-conditioned restaurant eating ice-cream with my son yesterday, He asked me what life would be like without electricity. I turned the question back on him, and asked him to name all the things he could think of that are powered by electricity. It was a fun and educational discussion. He was fascinated as I did my best to explain how people managed to live before electricity.

Later, long after the question had evaporated from my son’s curious mind, I was lying awake in my bed still pondering. I tried to think realistically about what I would do in the middle of this insane desert to keep my family alive in the event of a disaster severe enough to deprive us of electricity and the other conveniences of modern life on which we have grown so dependent.

The first and obvious answer is to have plenty of water and non-perishable food on hand. I won’t be discussing this because, frankly, my wife is much better suited to the subject of food storage. Rather, I’d like to share the insights I had last night about things not so commonly considered in terms of reacting to a disaster in the desert.

Keep in mind that these are merely a few suggestions and should in nowise be considered a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan.

1- Get Rid of Your Elephant
I’m not talking about the proverbial “elephant in the room”; I’m talking about a real live elephant. If you have an elephant when a disaster strikes, your first priority should be to get rid of it. I understand that your elephant may feel like a member of your family, but an elephant can eat up to 200 pounds of food and drink 50 gallons of water in a single day. Surviving in the desert while trying to sustain an elephant is simply not practical.

2- Don’t Rely on Your Chili’s Gift Cards
Perhaps you’ve been stockpiling gift cards to Chili’s with the idea that if calamity ensues, you will just eat at Chili’s until things are back to normal. The problem is that Chili's manages their gift cards with a computer system that relies on a magnetic strip on the back of each card. Without electricity, your waiter will not be able to swipe your card. Granted, you may still be able to use your McDonalds Dollars, but keep in mind that your food will be served raw and unrefrigerated.

3- Stop Exercising
Even if your New-Year’s resolution was to exercise every day this year, you should stop. Believe it or not, exercising in the desert with little to no food or water can actually have a negative impact on your health. If you’re worried about the weight, rest easy. You’ll find the pounds just melting away as you struggle to stay alive in the deadly heat of the Mojave.

4- Apologize to Your Loved Ones
When all is said and done, if a major disaster does occur while you're living in Las Vegas, you’re probably going to die. You’ll find it easier to do so if you’ve already made peace with those whom you have offended over the years.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Don't Care if You Don't Like Fish

I like fish. Actually, I like to eat fish; my feelings toward the animals themselves are fairly neutral.

As a liker of fish, I have to say that I am often ashamed of the lack of tolerance expressed by some of my fellow fish-likers. Why must fish-likers insist that fish-haters keep trying fish? “You’ll like this fish”, they say, “It doesn’t have that ‘fishy’ taste.” Well, if one of the criteria for a food to taste good is for it not to taste like itself, then there is an implication that that food is inherently not good.

If I was to tell a friend that I don’t like chocolate cake, he might think I was a little wrong in the head, but he wouldn’t try to convince me to eat it by telling me it didn’t have that ‘chocolaty’ taste.

Truthfully, I don’t believe that fish-likers really want others to like fish at all. I think they’re convinced that liking fish puts them in an elite class of fine food connoisseurs. (This is especially true of sushi-likers.) Their constant insistence that fish-haters keep trying fish is merely an excuse for them to raise an eyebrow in mock surprise and say, “Really? You don’t like it? To me, the moist flakes of buttery light meat are reminiscent of a Tuscan sunset. . . " Then, with the tone of a mother talking to a toddler, they ask, "And how do you like your hamburger?”

Since when did having an affinity for a particular type of food make anybody sophisticated? Whenever I see fish-likers exhibiting this kind of behavior, I inwardly question whether their fish fetish is even genuine. I think often times people develop a tolerance for fish just so they can lord their pseudo passion over everyone they encounter. In fact, the more outwardly exuberant someone is about fish, the less likely it is that they truly like it. Anyone who says, “Man, I could just kill for some cod right now!” or, “I’d chew my own legs off and drag myself through a pit of asps to get to some halibut!” should not be trusted.

There is even a hierarchy within the fish-liking community. As a fish-liker, your rank is determined by the outlandishness of the food you’re able to ingest. Those who are only willing to eat cooked salmon are no better than peasants. Eat a live blowfish, however, and you’re immediately hobnobbing with the upper-crust. I have no doubt that if I were to open a restaurant in Beverly Hills that sold nothing but aged raw sea urchin spleens, my patrons would be considered royalty.

It’s ridiculous, and I’m sick of it. To all you fish-haters and only-cooked-salmon-likers: On behalf of my insensitive, elitist and bigoted fish-liking peers, I apologize. Eat whatever the hell you want.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

“Relativity: A Theory”

In 1905, a 26 year old Albert Einstein shook the very foundation of the physics community when he introduced his Special Theory of Relativity. He all but called Isaac Newton a bumbling twit as he uprooted, spit-on and spurned Newton’s shallow and childish theory of gravitation.

Now, I give full props to Einstein for being a smarty pants, but his theory is seriously lacking in the arena of usability. Of course, if you happen to be a science fiction writer looking to add a shred of credibility to your wildly outlandish tales of travel through space and time, Einstein’s theory will always be a staple. For most of us, however, the applications are limited. I understand that it is a fascinating concept, and you may even be tempted to test the relative speed of the light from your laser pointer by shining it on the forehead of a flight attendant while you’re hurling through the sky at 700mph in a passenger plane. I highly recommend you resist this urge (see my article, “Waterboarding: It’s Worse than You’d Think” for more details).

My point is the world has long been in need of a relativity theory that can, not only be understood, but can be applied to daily life. Enter my brainchild, “Relativity: A Theory”. And before you send me an angry email telling me that my idea is actually a hypothesis, please note the quotation marks.

My “theory” deals with perception. Specifically the perception other people have of your physical appearance. It was born by personal reflection after a lifetime of gaining and losing weight, growing and shaving facial hair, and a rapidly declining battle between my hair line (the good guys) and my forehead (the bad guy).

In my reflections, I have concluded that there are five factors involved in determining appearance:

1- Initial Actual Appearance (i)
This is your physical appearance (on a scale of 1-100) upon first contact with someone who previously has never seen you. This is sometimes referred to as, “First Impression”, although the term “First Impression” generally has a broader scope which includes such things as your mannerisms and personality. The value of i becomes the initial value of P (see below).

2- Presumptive Appearance (P)
This is what a person who has previously seen you thinks you look like now. The value of P can only be modified when the variance between S and c (see below) is greater than two.

3- Subconscious Presumptive Appearance (S)
This is the value of c (see below) from the most recent contact a person has had with you.

4- Current Actual Appearance (c)
This is what you actually look like now.

5- Relative Appearance Variance(R)
The difference between Current Actual Appearance and Subconscious Presumptive Appearance is the Relative Appearance Variance, or more concisely: R=c-S

I assert that Presumptive Appearance is far more important than Current Actual Appearance. Groundbreaking? Maybe not at first glance, but when you consider the implications I think you may be surprised at what you find.

Say, for instance, you meet a friend for the first time. Assuming you’re an average looking person, we’ll assign your physical appearance at the time of your first meeting a value of 50. Understand now that this value is interpreted and logged subconsciously by the friend you just met. Now in the mind of your new friend you have a Presumptive Appearance (P) with a value of 50 (The value of i immediately becomes the initial value of P), and since you just met, this also happens to be the value of c and S. Your R is 0, which means you look exactly like your new friend thinks you look.

You see this friend often over the course of the next 5 years while you slowly gain 50 pounds. His S value for you is reset to your c value every time he sees you; however P can only be affected by immediate variances between S and c which are greater than 2. Therefore your friend has not noticed that you’ve become a fat slob. Your c is now 30, but your P (with this friend) is still 50.

You finally realize that you’re way too fat, so you go to a fat farm and lose 30 pounds. Your c is now 40, however your friend who still holds a P value of 50 for you will immediately recognize the 10 point improvement in your c as compared to his S value for you, and he will adjust his P for you accordingly – making your P a value of 60 in his mind. He may say to you, “Wow! You look amazing! Ten years younger!” and on a conscious level he believes it. Subconsciously he is merely recognizing how atrocious you looked the last time he saw you.

So why is this “theory” so much more usable than Al’s? Because when we’re aware of these principles we can use them to our advantage.

Rules to Live By:

1- First Impressions are critical
When meeting someone for the first time, remember that a high Initial Actual Appearance value could really hurt you in the long run. Try not to look too good.

2- If you’re really ugly, that’s great news!
With a relatively small amount of work and calculation, you can actually be better looking than a super model (at least in the eyes of those who know you).

3- If you’re really good looking, don’t worry there’s hope
The trick for you will be to slowly get ugly while making sure everyone you know sees you often enough as not to exceed the 2 point variance (which would make them aware that you’re getting uglier).

4- Stay away from the counterfeit “relativity” theory
There is a school of thought that would have you believe that surrounding yourself with people uglier than yourself will make you relatively more attractive. Inevitably this backfires for one of two reasons:
1- Eventually someone is going to see you alone
2-As you get older and fatter it will become increasingly difficult (and eventually impossible) to find people uglier than you.

5- Be Social - When you’re at your ugliest, try to meet as many people as possible.

6- Be Anti-Social - If you decide to go on a diet, become a hermit until the weight is off.

7- Photographs are not your friend – If someone sees a photo of you when you first met, there is a possibility that his/her S for you will be reset to the image of you in the photograph which would trigger the 2 point R variance threshold causing a P adjustment. This, of course, would make you very ugly.

8- Photographs are your friend – On the off chance that you're actually better looking than you used to be, it could be in your best interest to remind people what you used to look like.

Suggested Application:

As a balding man, I have found that an exellent way to take advantage of "relativity" is by letting the sparse remains of my hair grow for a month or two. Since I usually keep my head shaved, the gradual appearance of a thin and receding head of hair steadily reduces my Current Actual Appearance value. The effect is exacerbated if I simultaneously allow my facial hair to grow out to an unfashionably straggly length. Following this procedure, I can reduce my Current Actual Appearance value by up to 7 points in the course of just a few weeks. As long as I maintain frequent contact with those of my friends whose opinion of me I actually care about, I have the ability to become 7 points better looking overnight!

The above photos were taken one day apart.